John Geiger Responds to Nike in Sneaker Knockoff Lawsuit

Designer John Geiger is asking to be removed from Nike's lawsuit, arguing that there's no evidence his sneakers were mistaken for legitimate Air Force 1s.

John Geiger GF01 Air Force 1 White
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Image via John Geiger Co.

John Geiger GF01 Air Force 1 White

Sneaker designer John Geiger is looking to exit a legal battle he was pulled into this summer, asking a California court to dismiss a complaint from Nike that names him as a defendant.

After originally filing a trademark infringement lawsuit against manufacturer La La Land Production in January 2021 that accuses the company of making bootlegs of popular Nike shoes, Nike amended its complaint in August to include Geiger. The amended complaint asserts that La La Land produces Geiger’s GF-01 sneakers, which are based on the Nike Air Force 1. Nike claims that the lookalike shoes are capitalizing off the fame of the iconic Air Force 1 and causing confusion in the marketplace.

On Tuesday, Geiger’s legal team filed a proposed order looking for the central district of California court to dismiss Nike’s amended complaint and sever its legal action against the independent designer. In a statement to Complex, Geiger said that in the event he is not removed from the lawsuit, he is ready for longer legal action.

“I’ve been open about my battles with mental health over the years and Nike has really pushed my limits with this sloppy, frivolous lawsuit, but thanks to Sean Davis and my team of lawyers for being overly prepared,” Geiger said. “If it doesn’t get dismissed we are prepared for a yearlong process and [to] fight it in court.”

Nike did not respond to a request for comment on its lawsuit against La La Land and Geiger.

Alongside the proposed order submitted Tuesday came a long motion from Geiger’s lawyers arguing that his GF-01 shoes are not in fact infringing upon Nike trademarks. The rebuttal argues that the GF-01 shoe is unlikely to be confused for a Nike product because, despite its similarities to the Air Force 1, it does not feature the Swoosh logo. Geiger’s shoe instead has a “G” logo on its side which his lawyers say looks nothing like the Swoosh.

“It is virtually impossible to confuse the two products,” the response reads. “As such, the complaint against Geiger should be dismissed in its entirety.”

Geiger GF-01 Nike Air Force 1

Years before becoming a defendant in a lawsuit filed by Nike, Geiger worked with the brand on the creation of its Zoom Revis 1 signature shoe for former NFL cornerback Darrelle Revis. At the time the shoe was being designed and released in 2012, Geiger was Revis’ business manager, a position that put him close to the star cornerback’s sneaker sponsor. Geiger was at one point a friend of the brand, receiving complimentary packages of coveted sneakers and appearing at Nike marketing events.

Geiger eventually made a name for himself in the custom sneaker world by remixing Air Force 1s. His most popular custom work, the “Misplaced Checks” Air Force 1s he started releasing in 2014, were named not only for the multiple Swoosh marks (checks) he added to the upper, but also in reference to what he’s said were late royalty checks Nike owed him for his work on the Revis shoe. Geiger’s lawyers make reference to this past work with Nike in this week’s filings, mentioning in a footnote that the company “has profited from” and “still uses to this day” the ideas he provided them.

Geiger’s lawyers reject the claim from Nike that the GF-01 shoe infringes on the Air Force 1’s trade dress, a specific type of trademark that pertains to something’s physical appearance. They say that Nike regularly modifies the Air Force 1 and sells different versions, weakening its trade dress by doing so. 

“It is the Swoosh, not the generic stitching patterns that gives the Air Force 1 mark its strength,” Geiger’s lawyers write.

The response goes on to cite other brands—Walmart, A Bathing Ape, and Yums among them—that have made Air Force 1-esque shoes, saying that because Nike has failed to police similar copies, the distinctiveness around the model’s trade dress has been erased.

In claiming his shoe does not infringe upon Nike’s, Geiger’s lawyers break down in the motion the differences between the GF-01 and the Air Force 1. They list the lower toe box, taller heel, higher collar curvature, and completely different outsole as elements that differentiate the GF-01 from the Air Force 1. They also say that because Geiger’s shoe is a “luxury product,” it wouldn’t typically be positioned next to actual Air Force 1s in stores.

A comparison of the Geiger GF-01 and the Nike Air Force 1 breaking down the differences in the two shoes

Geiger’s lawyers argue that he doesn’t belong in the lawsuit Nike brought against La La Land, because it primarily concerns the Swoosh and the Dunk—two things he’s avoided in his product. Nike’s original litigation against La La Land was focused on its role in producing Warren Lotas’ controversial Nike SB Dunk lookalikes that Nike also sued over in 2020.

Geiger’s lawyers say the shoes he offers for sale are made in Indonesia and not by La La Land. Their response claims that “La La Land merely created a GF-01 prototype based on the design Geiger provided.”

The Geiger shoes, his lawyers say, are unlikely to cause any confusion in the marketplace because the people who buy them are educated sneakerheads who exercise a “high degree of care” with their purchases. There is little chance, they say, of this crowd being confused about the shoes’ origin and no evidence of them being legitimately duped into thinking Geiger’s GF-01s are produced by Nike.

Toward its end, the response from Geiger’s lawyers to Nike’s amended complaint reiterates that the original lawsuit has little to do with their client. It suggests that Nike’s true motive in involving Geiger in the suit is to “force [him] to undergo severe reputational damage through its involvement in a case about selling ‘fake’ Nikes.”

The designer has spoken about how the lawsuit has already affected his business, using social media to comment on the litigation.

“You can strip endorsement deals, cut off my brand partnerships & stop my relationships,” Geiger wrote on Twitter last week. “I will overcome all this in front of me.”